Ask any woman with a high level of expertise in her field, and she will have heaps of stories about having to justify or defend her knowledge and ability to those who have been conditioned to expect their experts and mentors to be male. And, unfortunately, those reactions are not only to be seen from the males around us. Women are just as likely to harbor the same ingrained prejudices whether they realize it or not.
The Magician in the Tarot is a charismatic expert who inspires us and motivates us. There’s an element of awe there, the idea that this card represents someone who we aspire to be, not just someone we desire to learn from.
And how many of us, if we were to be told to seek out such a person, would picture our target as a man?
This card, of course, is often set against the next one as a contrasting pair: the hard knowledge and willful creative acts of the Magician against the nebulous wisdom and gentle guidance of the High Priestess. And it is in such contrasts that I see much of the ingrained sexism of the Tarot. In illustrating such contrasting concepts through gendered iconography, we illustrate a world with gender-based limits. And the more we reinforce that idea in art and media, the more we reinforce that expectation.
Even as this card has a mystical overtone to it — this is a magician, not a physician — it points towards practical and actionable kinds of expertise rather than philosophical and experiential wisdom. And while I don’t argue that those are two different types of knowledge there is no good reason to depict them as gendered.
Clearly, the fight for equality would be helped immensely if we purposefully sought out women as guides and mentors and motivators.